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 A slightly disturbing Seattle Times report regarding the lack of critical thinking skills from college graduates. Although shocking, this is not too much of a surprise (knowing the kids I knew in college). Though people studying liberal arts, humanities, natural sciences, and mathematics (yeah for us!!!) showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills, the article was vague as to whether or not learning and critical thinking are the same, furthermore, the article indicated that students who read (at least 40 pages/wk) and write(20 pages / semester), showed higher rates of learning.

 What I also found interesting is that individual studying is more effective than group studying

  The article was solely based on Richard Arum's new book " Academically Adrift" and his study of following 2,000+ students from 2005 to 2009, and found that:

45% of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36% showed no significant gains in these so-called "higher order" thinking skills.

 So if the original intent of college was to promote critical thinking, and this report shows that college students have slightly higher than a 50% chance to 'improve critical thinking skills', what is the purpose of college now? and moreover, what do you think is the purpose of education, and has that purpose changed given the technological advancements?

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I have to agree that it does not seem to be much of a surprise, although it is disheartening. I'm surprised that individual studying is considered more effective than group studying; when I was in college, we always prepared for tests in a group (we had our own little group of nerdy geeks), and it was very effective because we would not allow each other to get distracted for too long while at the same time we provided those little distractions for each other (like saying something funny or silly) that actually make focusing on studying easier over all.


Is it possible that college education is changing? That the goal has actually changed? More like a narrowly focused study to learn practical skills for the workplace? I'm speculating that perhaps this is why critical thinking skills appeared better in the humanities, liberal arts, math and science majors. I have always been a big supporter of education just for the sake of learning to think and acquiring very broad knowledge over a pretty wide range of subjects. Specific skills can be acquired directly on the job or in graduate school if the chosen career so requires it. As I was typing this, though, I realize it sounds pretty old fashioned.

I can see how individual study practically teaches self reliance to learn the material, whereas study groups, which are positive in your case Adriana, tend to break out into social hour, and things do not get done. Also there is that struggle to understand, which I find really important to learning. If everything came easy, it would not be worth learning...Anyways you and I could go back and forth on that.


The question takes me back to my intro to rhetoric class, when my professor posed the question, "What is an education". He enjoyed using a technical definition which follows the form of " A ______ is a _____ that ______", and it helped to create definitions that were more in-depth and helped to make the word unambiguous, in contrast to the common dictionary definitions. The problem with the question was that we had no answer...I would like to think that an education is a process/method that we utilize to enhance our understanding/knowledge of the world. So if one were to receive an education, they have many options to gain one. The options can be as simple as going to a library and reading extensively on various topics, to going to college. As we have have noted from the article though, learning is improved when one learns, and according to the author, learning is achieved through reading more and writing more. So by that reasoning a library seems to be the best option to an education. Although there is limited to no writing, it is purely reading, and reading of any desired material. This form takes out the middle man in education and makes us the democratic leader in this decision. So what purpose is college, given that critical thinking skills only effect science,math,lib arts, and humanities majors, and we have not seen any data on the matter to compare how much more one gains, and how much more each generation gains/loses?


I wonder if out current college 'structure ?' is even that effective anymore, now that we are in an age where we can literally access all the classics from project-guttenberg online, and we can learn a vast amount of information at our fingertips through wikipedia (though not a trust source) and even math and science can be learned online, though lab time would be rare. We live in an age of "Do-It-Yourself' attitude towards building and fixing things, so why not start a college that is not so much lecture as it is 'learn on your own time' and come to a computer lab, biology/chemistry/physics lab, math lab to do the hands-on/project based atmosphere? Who would benefit from such a system, and who would not benefit? I just came up with this idea, or may have been influenced somewhere down the line. You thoughts?


I had a philosophy high school teacher who used the same method of making us think of definitions in exactly that structure, and I'm talking about the late 70s in a third world country. Perhaps it's an old, proven method to get people to think, or it could be pure coincidence. Anyway, that teacher told me a lot about how to think.


I think being an autodidact is a fantastic thing, my father was like that because he he grew up poor and had no educational opportunities, yet he was very well educated and learned, he never stopped reading. But I don't know how many people are capable of that kind of self-control and discipline.


Regarding critical thinking skills, I think those should be taught in high school, I'm had high school teachers who were very good and passionate about teaching and they taught critical thinking within their own subjects. My kids went to the specialized science schools in NYC (public) and they developed those skills in high school too, but I think this is the exception. they are both in college now and their experience with teachers has varied, but overall they have learned valuable stuff in my opinion. Writing skills are very important, I think. Putting things on paper forces you to think about them in a different way. When I write a scientific article, putting the story together really improves the research in the end; the same goes for preparing a presentation. You need somebody to evaluate you when you do this, even if informally; it's important that your peers evaluate you, not just the professors. This is one advantage of actually going to college as opposed to learning by yourself; these types of social interactions are useful, we are after all, a highly social animal and I do think if the environment is right, learning in the company of other people is valuable.


Perhaps the current way classes are structured is not right, may be too many lectures and not enough thinking. I'm not a professional educator so I'm no expert, but I teach graduate and medical students a few times a year and my classes are always interactive, otherwise you are right, they could just go read a book or scientific articles.


College in your own time is basically online college, isn't it? I know a couple of people who did that with good results, it improved their job situation and they said they ave earned a lot; but they already had college degrees, these were Master programs. I think the do-it-yourself approach works but probably only with motivated people; for others, the motivation may not be there or they may need extra help. Small class size would be great for that, I think.

I agree, high school should be about teaching higher levels of logic/thinking and then college should be about mastery/specialization. I would also like to see education become more online, lectures should be videos you can watch over and over again, so as to take the notes of the lecture at our own pace. My partial differential equations class would have been a lot smoother had the professor had a youtube account and videotaped his lectures and example problems, so that we could watch it over again to catch what we did not understand. The book for the class was not terribly great either, and that way lecture time could go towards applying the material (numerical methods or finite difference methods in this case) towards research projects, and being productive while at the same time learning the subject material.

Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, is doing something similar where the lectures are online so the student can watch the videos at their own pace, and then in class the teacher is helping do problems. Here is a TED talk he gave, and frankly, I think education should move towards this idea.



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